S&P Futures, European Stocks Hit New All-Time Highs As Rates Slide
S&P Futures, European Stocks Hit New All-Time Highs As Rates Slide
European stocks hit a new record highs on Thursday, buoyed by optimism in Britain over easing lockdown restrictions, while the benign outlook on US interest rates revealed
European stocks hit a new record highs on Thursday, buoyed by optimism in Britain over easing lockdown restrictions, while the benign outlook on US interest rates revealed in the latest FOMC Minutes where the Fed indicated it will maintain its commitment to supportive policy, helped push S&P futures to new all time highs after the cash index closed at a record on Wednesday. Treasury yields dropped, the dollar slipped and crude oil fell as the pandemic worsened in key regions just as OPEC+ prepares to add supply over the coming months.
At 7:30 a.m. EDT, Dow E-minis were flat, S&P 500 stock futures up 13.75 points or 0.34% and Nasdaq 100 E-minis were up 122 points, or 0.89%. The S&P 500 and the Dow ended a choppy session near record highs on Wednesday, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq is still more than 3% below its February all-time high.
On Wednesday, the Fed acknowledged an improving economic outlook buoyed by massive fiscal spending and accelerating vaccinations in minutes from its latest meeting which showed members felt the economy was still far short of target and were in no rush to scale back their $120 billion a month of bond buying. Policymakers noted it would be “some time” before conditions improve enough for the Fed to rein in its support. Between the commitment to low rates and speculation that Biden's infrastructure plan will be lowered down, interest rates resumed their decline. Elsewhere, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen unveiled details of a plan to bring back about $2 trillion in corporate profits into the U.S. tax net. That would help fund the government’s spending initiatives, potentially reducing reliance on more borrowing that could drive rates higher.
“Many economists and market participants have been worried about a surge in inflation, but the Fed doesn’t seem to be,” Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at FXTM, said in a client note. “So far, it seems we are in a Goldilocks situation. Expect U.S. stocks to continue outperforming non-U.S. stocks at least in the short term, equities to outperform bonds and, if corporate earnings surprise to the upside, this would pave the way for more record highs.”
Nasdaq futures jumped about 1% on Thursday, as tech-related stocks climbed ahead of weekly jobless claims data, helped by 10Y rates that dropped to session lows. FAAMG stocks rose between 0.8% and 1% in premarket trading. High-growth tech stocks have recovered in recent sessions as U.S. 10-year bond yields backed off from their 14-month highs.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 index was up 0.3%, hitting a new high of 436.66 points, led higher by consumer products and services companies, with health care also higher, and insurance companies and banks falling as yield curves, particularly in the U.S., bull flattened. London’s blue chip FTSE 100 index was up 0.2%, while France’s CAC 40 Index jumped to its highest level since 2000. Anglo American Plc was one of the region’s biggest gainers after outlining plans to spin off its South African coal mines. AstraZeneca Plc also gained, outperforming health peers, after EU governments failed to agree on a policy that would limit the use of the drugmaker’s coronavirus vaccine over potential clotting side-effects. Here are some of the biggest European movers today:
- Johnson Matthey shares rise as much as 7.8% to hit the highest since July 2019. The firm’s update implied earnings ahead of expectations and the review of its health division could unlock significant value, Jefferies wrote in a note.
- Metso Outotec shares jump as much as 3.8% after the company signed a contract for the supply of a large-capacity Grate-Kiln pellet plant in the state of Odisha, India.
- Sage Group shares advance as much as 2.7% after Citi upgraded the software firm to buy from neutral. The broker said news flow is turning more positive and company’s valuation should subsequently begin to reflect greater confidence in the longer-term growth outlook.
- Telenor shares rise as much as 4% after the company and Axiata said they were in talks to merge their mobile-phone operations in Malaysia. Goldman Sachs the discussions said were “a strategic positive.” The broker said deal is “a positive for the local synergies it could generate.”
- Gerresheimer shares fall as much as 6.2% after the company reported 1Q organic growth that Commerzbank said was below estimates.
“It’s looking good as evaluations in Europe are much lower than they are in the U.S. so there is potentially more upside. The line of least resistance for European markets is higher,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets. “In terms of economic re-opening, there is enough optimism built in at the moment to drive markets quite a bit higher from here, and the Fed has reiterated it’s going to remain on hold for a while,” Hewson said.
Earlier in the session, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares ex-Japan inched up 0.3% in quiet trade. Japan’s Nikkei slipped 0.3%, not helped by news Tokyo’s governor had asked for emergency measures to stem a surge of COVID-19 infections.
Asian stocks advanced, erasing earlier losses with Hong Kong among leading gainers with AIA Group providing the biggest boost. The Hang Seng Index advanced more than 1% to the highest closing level since Mar. 18. Insurance giant AIA was the largest contributor to both the Hong Kong benchmark and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index. AIA rallied 6.2% as Morgan Stanley said the life insurer’s expansion in China is key to maintaining its “premium” valuation. The brokerage lifted its target on the company by 46%. Key measures in Australia and New Zealand were also among the top gainers in the region, with the S&P/ASX 200 index climbing to its highest since February 2020. Earlier, Asian stocks were dragged down by losses in Japan as Tokyo considered a return to stricter coronavirus measures amid rising infections. Sector-wise, communication services and utilities were the worst performers on the MSCI Asia Pacific Index. Financials and materials shares advanced.
China’s stocks edged higher following a two-day slide, boosted by a rebound in healthcare and consumer staples firms. The benchmark CSI 300 Index rose 0.2% to close at 5,112.21 points, after erasing an earlier decline. Trading has stayed in a narrow band this week, extending a trend since early last month. Turnover on the Shanghai and Shenzhen markets rebounded to 726 billion yuan ($111 billion), the highest since March 29. Liquor makers including Kweichow Moutai stabilized after recent declines, with CGS-CIMB analysts noting that baijiu distillers likely saw sales growth of 10%-20% in the first quarter relative to 2020 as consumption levels normalize. Moutai rose 0.4%. Such sideways trading offers investors a respite following the stock gauge’s swift tumble into a technical correction last month. While it will take time for the market to digest potential risks in the future, including potential liquidity tightening, bellwether stocks remain among the most valuable firms within various industries despite high valuations, according to an Everbright Securities note.
Japanese stocks slid as Tokyo sought a return to stricter coronavirus measures amid increasing infections. Banks drove a broad decline in the Topix, which was headed for its third-straight weekly drop. Travel and retail stocks were weak amid virus concerns. Advantest and Sony were the largest drags on the Nikkei 225. Fast Retailing gained ahead of its earnings report, just after the market close. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she will ask the central government to designate the capital as an area that requires stricter coronavirus measures. The nation’s capital reported 545 new cases on Thursday after 555 on Wednesday, the highest daily total since early February. “Infections in Japan are rising, which will impact sectors like services and logistics, though the impact on manufacturing will be limited,” said Takashi Ito, an equity market strategist at Nomura Securities in Tokyo. “With earnings season kicking off with retail companies, investors are keen to see what their outlook for the current fiscal year is like and what impact the pandemic has.”
Australian stocks jumped to a 13 month high, with the S&P/ASX 200 index rising 1% to close at 6,998.80, its highest level since since Feb. 21, 2020 and less than 200 points away from a record high. The benchmark climbed for a fifth consecutive session in its longest streak since Dec. 9. Miners led the rally as iron ore futures in Singapore held near their highest close in almost a month. EML Payments was the best performer, extending gains on the back of its deal to acquire payments firm Sentenial. Resolute Mining was the worst performer, snapping a four-day winning streak.
In rates, as shown above, Treasuries held gains across the curve, with 10-year yields richer by nearly 3bp on the day, down to 1.647%, vs little-changed bunds and gilts, flattening 2s10s by ~2bp. Yields on 10-year Treasuries have eased back to 1.642% from the recent 14-month high of 1.776%, but have struggled to break under 1.59%. The TSY curve is flatter as long end outperforms, while Treasuries lead bunds and gilts. Notable treasury futures flows according to Bloomberg include an $800k/DV01 5-year vs bond contract block trade printed at 5:09am ET. Fed speakers Thursday include Chair Powell in a panel discussion on the global economy during IMF meeting.
Gains by U.S. Treasuries helped risk assets, although analysts said markets will be tested next week when the U.S. earnings seasons gets underway.
In FX, the dollar fell against most of its G-10 peers; the greenback is about to extend its recent run lower if charts are anything to go by. Australian and New Zealand dollars lead gains along with Japanese yen, which extended an Asia session advance against the dollar to a high of 109.44, testing the 21-DMA. The euro pared an early advance to trade little changed; euro-dollar options are overpriced again and may remain so if the pair keeps rallying in the spot market due to market makers’ positioning. The pound was little changed after erasing an earlier advance amid cautiously improving sentiment on the nation’s vaccine rollout.
In commodities, oil prices fell after official figures showed a big increase in U.S. gasoline stockpiles, causing concerns about demand for crude weakening in the world’s biggest consumer of the resource at a time when supplies around the world are rising. Brent fell 22 cents to $62.94 a barrel while WTI lost 37 cents to $59.40 per barrel. Gold was at $1,743 an ounce after meeting resistance around $1,745.
Looking at today's calendar, the weekly initial claims report due at 830am ET is expected to show the number of Americans filing for new unemployment benefits dropped in the latest week, a further sign that the labor market’s conditions were improving. Also on deck today, Fed Chair Jerome Powell will speak at a virtual International Monetary Fund event at 1200 ET. We’ll also get the minutes of the ECB’s March meeting. Data releases include German factory orders for February and the March construction PMIs from both Germany and the UK. Otherwise, there’s the Euro Area’s PPI for February.
- S&P 500 futures up 0.3% to 4,081.50
- MXAP up 0.2% to 207.29
- STOXX Europe 600 up 0.3% to 435.66
- MXAPJ up 0.5% to 692.55
- Nikkei little changed at 29,708.98
- Topix down 0.8% to 1,951.86
- Hang Seng Index up 1.2% to 29,008.07
- Shanghai Composite little changed at 3,482.56
- Sensex up 0.7% to 50,006.37
- Australia S&P/ASX 200 up 1.0% to 6,998.77
- Kospi up 0.2% to 3,143.26
- Brent Futures down 0.3% to $62.95/bbl
- Gold spot up 0.3% to $1,742.74
- U.S. Dollar Index down 0.1% to 92.37
- German 10Y yield fell 0.6 bps to -0.330%
- Euro up 0.1% to $1.1879
Top Overnight News from Bloomberg
- The U.S. is proposing that countries should be able to tax more corporate profits based on revenues within their borders in a bid to reach a global taxation deal
- Currency traders have reaped gains this year betting on the U.K.’s vaccine success and against Europe’s stumbles. Now that trade in going in reverse
- ECB Governing Council member Robert Holzmann tells CNBC that the decision on PEPP bond purchases in the third quarter will be decided upon at the end of the second
- Peter Thiel is “pro-crypto” and “pro-Bitcoin maximalist,” but he also thinks the cryptocurrency may be undermining America
- The EU failed to form a united response to links between AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine and a rare type of blood clotting, missing an opportunity to inject momentum into the bloc’s sluggish inoculation program
- Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. priced yen-denominated bonds on Thursday, as yield premiums in the Japanese market have tightened to the least in over two years
A quick look at global markets courtesy of Newsquawk
Asia-Pac bourses traded mixed-to-positive as the region took its cue from Wall Street where the major indices finished relatively flat after having meandered near their record levels following an anticlimactic FOMC Minutes release, although US equity futures gradually made headway after-hours. ASX 200 (+1.0%) advanced with resilience seen across all industries led by strength in the blue-chip miners and big 4 banks to lift the index briefly above the 7,000-milestone. Nikkei 225 (-0.1%) was subdued amid reports Japan is considering stronger COVID-19 controls in Tokyo and other cities but with losses cushioned by recent M&A news including the buyout offer for Toshiba and with Hitachi said to be in discussions with Bain regarding a potential sale of Hitachi Metals which boosted shares in the latter by nearly 5.0%, while the KOSPI (-0.1%) lacked direction as participants reflected on the stunning defeat by South Korea’s ruling Democratic party at the Seoul and Busan mayoral elections and as domestic COVID-19 cases continued to increase. Hang Seng (+1.2%) and Shanghai Comp. (+0.1%) were varied with sentiment in the mainland clouded by ongoing tensions in the South China Sea after the US warned China of its increasingly aggressive moves, while Hong Kong was underpinned by strength in the tech sector aside from industry heavyweight Tencent which was pressured on reports its largest shareholder plans to offload around USD 15bln of Co. shares. Finally, 10yr JGBs were lacklustre after the indecisive trade seen in USTs and as support from the firmer demand at the 5yr JGB auction dwindled, while Australian yields were slightly softer in the belly amid the RBA operation for AUD 2bln of government bonds.
Top Asian News
- India Seeks U.S. Help as China-Backed Hacks Threaten Military
- Uniqlo Owner’s Profit Rebounds as Pandemic Shoppers Return
- Jokowi Doubles Indonesia’s Wealth Fund Goal to $200 Billion
- Goldman-Backed ReNew to Invest $9 Billion in India’s Green Push
Stocks in Europe trade mostly higher, but with mild gains and off the best levels seen at the cash open (Euro Stoxx 50 +0.2%) as the region mimics a similar sentiment seen overnight and during US hours yesterday. US equity futures meanwhile see more of an advance with the NQ (+1.0%) and RTY (+0.8%) leading the gains. Fresh catalysts during European hours have been light, with a number of ECB speakers sticking to the script ahead of the ECB March accounts later today, whilst Fed Chair Powell is also poised to make an appearance at the IMF panel. European bourses see mostly broad-based gains with the exception of the IBEX (-0.1%) - weighed on by its exposure to Banks and Travel & Leisure, which reside as sectoral laggards in the region alongside Oil & Gas and Insurance. Meanwhile, some of the more defensive sectors are faring better - with Healthcare, Consumer Staples and Utilities posting relatively stronger performances thus far. The tech sector in Europe is also supported amid the low yield environment and following the Tech performance on Wall Street yesterday, whilst participants for now shrug off source reports that Apple (+0.6% pre-mkt) has postponed some production of some MacBooks and iPads due to the global component shortage. Source added that a a portion of the component orders for the two devices have been pushed back to H2-2021 from H1. In terms of individual movers, KPN (+3%) holds onto gains amid reports that PE firms EQT and Stonepeak are said to be mulling a joint USD 15bln bid for KPN, reportedly at over EUR 3/shr. Elsewhere, Johnson Matthey's (+3.4%) trading updates bolstered the stock to the top of the Stoxx 600.
Top European News
- EU Fails to Find United Response to AstraZeneca Vaccine Risk
- Tesla Bemoans ‘Irritating’ Approval Process for Berlin Plant
- American Financiers Want to Shake Up Fans-First German Soccer
- Norway’s $1.3 Trillion Wealth Fund to Add External Managers
In FX, the Buck is softer vs most G10 rivals in wake of the latest FOMC policy meeting minutes that added little new in terms of insight or guidance, but reaffirmed the message that there is some way to go before inflation and jobs hit target. Hence, the focus turns swiftly to Fed chair Powell at the IMF for his more up-to-date assessment of developments and the economic recovery outlook, especially given last Friday’s big US headline payrolls beat and a record high services ISM. On that note, the upcoming IJC release will provide an even more timely snapshot of the labour market ahead of his speech and comments from Bullard. Looking at the DXY, 92.500-000 continues to encapsulate trade following the break down from month end and earlier April highs in the index and Greenback overall, with underlying support forged from still relatively firm Treasury yields and a steeper curve in contrast to bullish-buoyant risk sentiment that is keeping the Dollar capped.
- JPY - Having repelled more selling pressure and another attempt to fill bids into 110.00, the Yen is now trying to breach half round number resistance at 109.50 convincingly before setting sights on more levels to fill gaps left behind following the sharp spike in Usd/Jpy that hit 110.97 on March 31.
- NZD/AUD - Also taking advantage of their US peer’s indecision, with the Kiwi and Aussie both surviving more concerted efforts to test round number and psychological support overnight when the general risk tone was fragile to stabilise around the middle of 0.7044-04 and 0.7648-03 respective ranges. Note, Nzd/Usd also had another downbeat business survey to contend with as ANZ sentiment soured and the activity outlook dipped, while Aud/Usd will be looking to the RBA’s FSR for some independent direction after unchanged policy and guidance from the Board earlier this week.
- CHF/EUR/GBP/CAD - The Franc and Euro have lost momentum vs the Dollar, though remain rangebound between 0.9302-0.9275 and 1.1893-1.1861 after fleeting or false upside forays on Wednesday, but Eur/Usd may now be reliant on ECB minutes for direction and also conscious that hefty option expiry interest lies just above the 200 DMA at the 1.1900 strike (1.9 bn), while not that much less resides between 1.1850-40 (1.5 bn to be precise). Elsewhere, the Pound seems to be at the whim of Eur/Gbp moves again, as Cable pivots 1.3750 and derives little impetus from a stronger than expected UK construction PMI, while bulls and bears tussle over the cross within a 0.8657-21 range. Conversely, Friday’s Canadian employment report should provide the Loonie with direction given Usd/Cad’s current containment around the 1.2600 axis eyeing crude/commodity prices and the unfolding wave of COVID-19.
- SCANDI/EM - The Sek has unwound some of its underperformance after mixed Swedish data, but the Rub remains under pressure amidst more punchy rhetoric from Russia in response to the threat of further US sanctions.
US Event Calendar
- 8:30am: March Continuing Claims, est. 3.64m, prior 3.79m
- 8:30am: April Initial Jobless Claims, est. 680,000, prior 719,000
- 11am: Fed’s Bullard Discusses Economy and Monetary Policy
- 12pm: Powell Takes Part in IMF Panel on Global Economy
- 2pm: Fed’s Kashkari Discusses U.S. Economic Outlook
DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap
Markets continued to hover around their all-time highs yesterday as investors digested the latest Fed minutes and looked forward to Chair Powell’s remarks today, with risk assets getting further support from the fact that bond yields continued to remain subdued in spite of some pretty strong data releases of late. By the close of trade, the S&P 500 had managed to eke out a +0.15% gain, which took the index to yet another record high, with the advance led by large tech companies in particular as the NYFANG index (+0.55%) recorded its 8th successive move higher. Meanwhile the overall environment remained an incredibly benign one for investors, with the VIX index of volatility falling to 17.16pts – its lowest level since the pandemic started – whilst Bloomberg’s index of US financial conditions eased further to its most accommodative level since late-2018.
In a day that didn’t see a massive amount of newsflow, the Fed minutes were the main highlight, and showed that the committee members remain cautious with regards to the economic recovery and do not feel any urgency to remove accommodation. The overall tone was dovish and there seemed to be no concern of an overheating economy – in fact the word overheat did not appear in the minutes at all – and Fed members believe it will be “some time” before asset purchases are tapered. Though the committee notably increased their economic and inflation forecasts last month, the minutes showed continued concerns stemming from the pandemic – including the pace of vaccinations and new variants. There were also concerns about stresses in the commercial real estate market “associated with the unwinding of mortgage forbearance and eviction moratoriums provided to households”, which they will continue to monitor.
US 10yr Treasuries were near flat just prior to the minutes being released and then rose +2.3bps by the end of the day to finish the session +1.8bps higher at 1.674%. Inflation expectations (+2.7bps) drove the small rise in yields, which was tempered by a drop in real yields (-0.9bps). Given the messaging that little-to-no action was expected in the short term the 2y10y curve steepened +2.2bps. However, in spite of yesterday’s moves higher for yields, the benchmark 10yr yield is still a little more than -10bps beneath its intraday high that it hit a little more than a week ago. This came as other Fed speakers sounded a relaxed note on inflation, with Dallas Fed President Kaplan saying that “when we get into the summer months of 2021 you’re going to see year-over-year comparisons that could be well in excess of 2.5%”. Meanwhile Governor Brainard said that after the “transitory pressures associated with reopening, it’s more likely that the entrenched inflation dynamics that we’ve seen for well over a decade will take over than that there will be a sustained surge in inflation for a persistent period”. Investors will be looking forward to Fed Chair Powell’s remarks later today, where he’s scheduled to speak at an IMF debate on the global economy at their virtual spring meetings. He’ll be appearing alongside the managing director of the IMF, the Irish finance minister and the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
Overnight in Asia, markets have mostly taken Wall Street’s lead and are trading higher with the Hang Seng (+0.83%), Shanghai Comp (+0.19%), India’s Nifty (+0.73%) and Asx (+0.98%) all posting gains. An exception to this pattern are the Kospi (-0.01%) which is essentially flat and the Nikkei (-0.38%) which is trading down. Elsewhere, futures on the S&P 500 are up +0.43% following the index’s record high yesterday, and European ones are also pointing to a positive open.
Looking at other markets yesterday, European equities also hovered around their recent highs, with the major indices including the STOXX 600 (-0.22%), the DAX (-0.24%) and the CAC 40 (-0.01%) seeing modest declines. The main exception to this was the FTSE 100 (+0.91%) which hit a post-pandemic high as the index was supported by the weaker pound sterling (-0.63% vs USD). Sovereign bond yields fell back too across the region, with those on 10yr bunds (-0.8bps), OATs (-1.2bps) and gilts (-2.4bps) all moving lower.
In terms of the latest on the pandemic, the main news yesterday was with regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine as multiple countries adjusted their guidance following reviews of the blood clot incidents. The European Medicines Agency concluded that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of the vaccine, saying that most of the reported cases have been in women under 60 within 2 weeks of receiving the vaccine. Nevertheless, their view remained that the benefits still outweighed the risks of the vaccine, given the odds of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19. Here in the UK, the MHRA’s review vaccine regulator said that evidence of a link between blood clots and the AZ vaccine was stronger, but further work was still needed. In response, the JCVI said that under-30s would be offered an alternative vaccine, although those who’d already had a first dose of AZ and hadn’t suffered from blood clots should still get their second dose. Finally, South Korea moved to temporarily suspend the AZ vaccines for the under-60s.
More broadly, the global case count continues to remain elevated, and in absolute terms the weekly increase at the moment is still at a faster pace than that seen throughout all of February and March, according to John Hopkins data. In the US, the variant first found in the UK has now overtaken the initial strain of the virus as the most common across the country, whilst cases overall have flattened around 65k a day. With vaccinations continuing to accelerate, states are going ahead with plans to reopen parts of the economy this summer. Yesterday, New York announced beaches would be fully reopened as of the start of June after barring swimmers last year, which comes after California announced a full reopening as of June 15. However in Ontario, Canada’s biggest province, a state of emergency was declared overnight and a stay-at-home order was issued. And in Asia, the Tokyo region in Japan is looking at the return of restrictions such as bars and restaurants being asked to close early after the region reported 555 cases yesterday, the most since early February. In India, as the spread of the virus accelerates, the country is now facing vaccine shortages in various states and cities including in the financial capital of Mumbai. The worst-hit Indian state of Maharashtra reported around 60,000 cases yesterday, and the state’s health minister said that it has only 3 days’ worth of vaccines in stock.
There was progress at yesterday’s G20 finance ministers meeting on reaching agreement to reform global corporate taxes, with the communique saying that they would “continue our cooperation for a globally fair, sustainable, and modern international tax system”, with an aim to reach “a global and consensus-based solution… by mid-2021.” Discussions have been ongoing for some time about whether to create a global minimum tax rate, as well as what to do about the challenges from digitisation, and although these ideas have been mooted for some years, the arrival of the new US administration has seen renewed progress, with Treasury Secretary Yellen voicing support for a global minimum corporate tax rate in a speech earlier this week. Overnight, the FT reported that the Biden administration had proposed that the largest multinationals would pay levies based on their sales in each country.
Staying on the tax theme, it’s also worth noting that the US Treasury Department unveiled a more detailed set of corporate tax proposals to fund the Biden administration’s infrastructure package announced last week. Nevertheless, the plans would need to win backing in Congress, and the centrist Democratic senator Joe Manchin has already said that he’s in favour of a 25% corporate tax rate, rather than the 28% proposed by the administration. Given the 50-50 split in the Senate between Republicans and Democrats, the administration would need to find at least some Republican support to pass the package if just one Democratic senator opposed the plans. Speaking of Manchin, a Washington Post op-ed released overnight saw the Senator say that there “is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster”.
Wrapping up with yesterday’s data, the main releases came from the March services and composite PMIs in Europe, where upward revisions from the flash reading pointed to some decent underlying momentum at the end of Q1. The Euro Area services PMI was revised up to 49.6 (vs. flash 48.8) and the composite PMI was also revised up to 53.2 (vs. flash 52.5). The UK did see a slight downgrade in its composite PMI to 56.4 (vs. flash 56.6), but both France and Germany saw upward revisions to 50 and 57.3 respectively. It’ll be interesting to see if this is sustained next month, as our European economists have written (link here) that tighter restrictions present some near-term downside risks to their growth views, even if their overall view for the year remains optimistic. The other main release came from the US trade balance for February, which showed the trade deficit widening to a record high of $71.1bn (vs. $70.5bn expected).
To the day ahead now, and one of the main highlights will be Fed Chair Powell’s appearance on a panel discussing the global economy. Other Fed speakers include Bullard and Kashkari, and we’ll also get the minutes of the ECB’s March meeting. Data releases include German factory orders for February and the March construction PMIs from both Germany and the UK. Otherwise, there’s the Euro Area’s PPI for February and the weekly initial jobless claims from the US.
Costco Tells Americans the Truth About Inflation and Price Increases
The warehouse club has seen some troubling trends but it’s also trumpeting something positive that most retailers wouldn’t share.
Costco has been a refuge for customers during both the pandemic and during the period when supply chain and inflation issues have driven prices higher. In the worst days of the covid pandemic, the membership-based warehouse club not only had the key household items people needed, it also kept selling them at fair prices.
With inflation -- no matter what the reason for it -- Costco (COST) - Get Free Report worked aggressively to keep prices down. During that period (and really always) CFO Richard Galanti talked about how his company leaned on vendors to provide better prices while sometimes also eating some of the increase rather than passing it onto customers.
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That wasn't an altruistic move. Costco plays the long game, and it focuses on doing whatever is needed to keep its members happy in order to keep them renewing their memberships.
It's a model that has worked spectacularly well, according to Galanti.
"In terms of renewal rates, at third quarter end, our US and Canada renewal rate was 92.6%, and our worldwide rate came in at 90.5%. These figures are the same all-time high renewal rates that were achieved in the second quarter, just 12 weeks ago here," he said during the company's third-quarter earnings call.
Galanti, however, did report some news that suggests that significant problems remain in the economy.
Costco Does See Some Economic Weakness
When people worry about the economy, they sometimes trade down when it comes to retailers. Walmart executives (WMT) - Get Free Report, for example, have talked about seeing more customers that earn six figures shopping in their stores.
Costco has always had a diverse customer base, but one weakness in its business may be a warning sign for its rivals like Target (TGT) - Get Free Report, Best Buy (BBY) - Get Free Report, and Amazon (AMZN) - Get Free Report. Galanti broke down some of the numbers during the call.
"Traffic or shopping frequency remains pretty good, increasing 4.8% worldwide and 3.5% in the U.S. during the quarter," he shared.
People shopped more, but they were also spending less, according to the CFO.
"Our average daily transaction or ticket was down 4.2% worldwide and down 3.5% in the U.S., impacted, in large part, from weakness in bigger-ticket nonfood discretionary items," he shared.
Now, not buying a new TV, jewelry, or other big-ticket items could just be a sign that consumers are being cautious. But, if they're not buying those items at Costco (generally the lowest-cost option) that does not bode well for other retailers.
Galanti laid out the numbers as well as how they broke down between digital and warehouse.
"You saw in the release that e-commerce was a minus 10% sales decline on a comp basis," he said. "As I discussed on our second quarter call and in our monthly sales recordings, in Q3, big-ticket discretionary departments, notably majors, home furnishings, small electrics, jewelry, and hardware, were down about 20% in e-com and made up 55% of e-com sales. These same departments were down about 17% in warehouse, but they only make up 8% in warehouse sales."
Costco's CFO Also Had Good News For Shoppers
Galanti has been very open about sharing information about the prices Costco has seen from vendors. He has shared in the past, for example, that the chain does not pass on gas price increases as fast as they happen nor does it lower prices as quick as they sometimes fall.
In the most recent call, he shared some very good news on inflation (that also puts pressure on Target, Walmart, and Amazon to lower prices).
"A few comments on inflation. Inflation continues to abate somewhat. If you go back a year ago to the fourth quarter of '22 last summer, we had estimated that year-over-year inflation at the time was up 8%. And by Q1 and Q2, it was down to 6% and 7% and then 5% and 6%," he shared. "In this quarter, we're estimating the year-over-year inflation in the 3% to 4% range."
The CFO also explained that he sees prices dropping on some very key consumer staples.
"We continue to see improvements in many items, notably food items like nuts, eggs and meat, as well as items that include, as part of their components, commodities like steel and resins on the nonfood side," he added.
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“What’s More Tragic Is Capitalism”: BLM Faces Bankruptcy As Founder Cullors Is Cut By Warner Bros
"What’s More Tragic Is Capitalism": BLM Faces Bankruptcy As Founder Cullors Is Cut By Warner Bros
Authored by Jonathan Turley,
Two years ago, I wrote columns about companies pouring money into Black Lives Matter to establish their bona fides as “antiracist” corporations. The money continued to flow despite serious questions raised about BLM’s management and accounting. Democratic prosecutors like New York Attorney General Letitia James showed little interest in these allegations even as James sought to disband the National Rifle Association (NRA) over similar allegations. At the same time, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors cashed in with companies like Warner Bros. eager to give her massive contracts to signal their own reformed status. It now appears that BLM is facing bankruptcy after burning through tens of millions and Warner Bros. cut ties with Cullors after the contract produced no — zero — new programming.
Some states belatedly investigated BLM as founders like Cullors seemed to scatter to the winds.
Gone are tens of millions of dollars, including millions spent on luxury mansions and windfalls for close associates of BLM leaders.
The usual suspects gathered around the activists like former Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias, who later removed himself from his “key role” as the scandals grew.
When questions were raised about the lack of accounting and questionable spending, BLM attacked critics as “white supremacists.”
Warner Bros. was one of the companies eager to grab its own piece of Cullors to signal its own anti-racist virtues. It gave Cullors a lucrative contract to guide the company in the creation of both scripted and non-scripted content, focusing on reparations and other forms of social justice. It launched a publicity campaign for everyone to know that it established a “wide-ranging content partnership” with Cullors who would now help guide the massive corporation’s new programming. Calling Cullors “one of the most influential thought leaders in American public life,” Warner Bros. announced that she was going to create a wide array of new programming, including “but not limited to live-action scripted drama and comedy series; longform/event series; unscripted docuseries; animated programming for co-viewing among kids, young adults and families; and original digital content.”
Some are now wondering if Warner Bros. ever intended for this contract to produce anything other than a public relations pitch or whether Cullors took the money and ran without producing even a trailer for an actual product. Indeed, both explanations may be true.
Paying money to Cullors was likely viewed as a type of insurance to protect the company from accusations of racial insensitive. After all, the company was giving creative powers to a person who had no prior experience or demonstrated talent in the area. Yet, Cullors would be developing programming for one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world.
One can hardly blame Cullors despite criticizism by some on the left for going on a buying spree of luxury properties.
After all, Cullors was previously open about her lack of interest in working with “capitalist” elements. Nevertheless, BLM was run like a Trotskyite study group as the media and corporations poured in support and revenue.
It was glaringly ironic to see companies like Warner Bros. falling over each other to grab their own front person as the group continued boycotts of white-owned businesses. Indeed, if you did not want to be on the wrong end of one of those boycotts, you needed to get Cullors on your payroll.
Much has now changed as companies like Bud Light have been rocked by boycotts over what some view as heavy handed virtue signaling campaigns.
It was quite a change for Cullors and her BLM co-founder, who previously proclaimed “[we] are trained Marxists. We are super versed on, sort of, ideological theories.” She denounced capitalism as worse than COVID-19. Yet, companies like Lululemon rushed to find their own “social justice warrior” while selling leggings for $120 apiece.
When some began to raise questions about Cullors buying luxury homes, Facebook and Twitter censored them.
With increasing concerns over the loss of millions, Cullors eventually stepped down as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, as others resigned. At the same time, the New York Post was revealing that BLM Global Network transferred $6.3 million to Cullors’ spouse, Janaya Khan, and other Canadian activists to purchase a mansion in Toronto in 2021.
According to The Washington Examiner, BLM PAC and a Los Angeles-based jail reform group paid Cullors $20,000 a month. It also spent nearly $26,000 on meetings at a luxury Malibu beach resort in 2019. Reform LA Jails, chaired by Cullors, received $1.4 million, of which $205,000 went to the consulting firm owned by Cullors and her spouse, according to New York magazine.
Once again, while figures like James have spent huge amounts of money and effort to disband the NRA over such accounting and spending controversies, there has been only limited efforts directed against BLM in New York and most states.
Cullors once declared that “while the COVID-19 illness is tragic, what’s more tragic is capitalism.” These companies seem to be trying to prove her point. Yet, at least for Cullors, Warner Bros. fulfilled its slogan that this is all “The stuff that dreams are made of.”
Under Pressure From Fat Activists, NYC Bans Weight Discrimination
Under Pressure From Fat Activists, NYC Bans Weight Discrimination
Discriminating against fat people is now illegal in New York City, after…
Discriminating against fat people is now illegal in New York City, after Mayor Eric Adams on Friday signed off on a ban that will affect not only employment, but also housing and access to public accommodations -- a term that encompasses most businesses.
We're in safe company using the word "fat," as champions of the cause refer to themselves as "fat activists." With the mayor's signature, two more categories -- both weight and height -- are added to New York City's list of protected personal attributes, which already included race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation.
Embracing one of 2023's innumerable strains of Orwellian brainwashing, Adams declared, "Science has shown that body type is not a connection to if you’re healthy or unhealthy. I think that’s a misnomer that we’re really dispelling.”
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say obesity is an invitation to a host of maladies, including to high blood pressure Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, many types of cancer, mental illness and difficulty with physical functioning.
“Size discrimination is a social justice issue and a public health threat," said Councilmember Shaun Abreu, who introduced the measure. "People with different body types are denied access to job opportunities and equal wages — and they have had no legal recourse to contest it," said Abreu. "Worse yet, millions are taught to hate their bodies."
A full 69% of American adults are overweight or obese, but our woke overlords would have us believe the real "public health threat" is a nice restaurant that doesn't want Two-Ton Tessie working the reception desk, or a landlord who's leary of a 400-pound man breaking a toilet seat or collapsing a porch.
The enticingly-named Tigress Osborn, who chairs the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, said New York's ban "will ripple across the globe" -- perhaps something like what would happen if the hefty Smith College Africana Studies graduate were dropped into a swimming pool.
The New York Times reports that witnesses who testified as the measure was under consideration included "a student at New York University said that desks in classrooms were too small for her [and] a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera [who] said she had faced body shaming and pressure to develop an eating disorder."
Some have dared to speak out against the measure. “This is another mandate where enforcement will be primarily through litigation, which imposes a burden on employers, regulators and the courts,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, speaking in April.
Implicitly putting the weight ordinance in the same category as Brown vs Board of Education, Abrue said, “Today is a monumental advancement for civil rights, size freedom and body positivity and while our laws are only now catching up to our culture, it is a victory that I hope will cause more cities, states and one day the federal government to follow suit.”
Taking effect in six months, the law has an exemption for employers "needing to consider height or weight in employment decisions" -- but "only where required by federal, state, or local laws or regulations or where the Commission on Human Rights permits such considerations because height or weight may prevent a person from performing essential requirements of a job."
We pray there's a federal exemption for employers of strippers and
Think we're joking? We remind you that the chair of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is named "Tigress" -- and this is her Twitter profile banner photo:
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